Motorcycle Movie History | Hollywood

Motorcycles of Hollywood

The motorcycle’s celluloid history dates back to the silent era. From Edgar Dearing’s familiar role as a motorcycle cop/foil in Laurel and Hardy shorts to Gael Garcia Bernal as a road-tripping Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Dairies and beyond, screen bikes are as iconic as the characters who ride them.

During a discussion of classic cycle movie moments over a beer after a long weekend ride a while back, one bike kept reappearing in the conversation with disproportionate frequency. Of course, Harley-Davidson, right? Nope. It is Triumph by a large margin. No less an authority than the Internet Movie Cars Database catalogs seven pages of entries for the British marque in films, while Harley rates a modest two pages.

Memorably, there was the quintessence of two-wheeled cool Steve McQueen (doubled by Bud Ekins), racing from a German POW camp in The Great Escape on a ’61 Triumph TR6 Trophy Bird disguised as a wartime BMW.

There was Clint Eastwood atop another Triumph TR6 in Coogan’s Bluff. An Officer and a Gentleman starred a Bonneville 750 T140E and, um, Richard Gere. More recently, Colin Farrell went to work on a Triumph America in Daredevil.

All fine examples, but chiefly there is the hellfire leather paradigm, the alpha and omega of two-wheeled rebellion, Marlon Brando and his Triumph Thunderbird 650 in The Wild One. This legendary pairing is more than mere Hollywood verisimilitude; Brando rode his own personal Triumph in the film and likewise, most of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club rode Triumphs as well. The Wild One sits atop many best biker-film lists like the trophy strapped to Brando’s handlebars in the movie.

Oscar-winner Walton Goggins, who has a role alongside Anthony Hopkins in The World’s Fastest Indian, remembered the impact the film had on him, “When I saw Marlon Brando on that Triumph it made me think of one word: freedom. That is what we all desire, freedom. It is the person that takes the time to be quiet, alone with his thoughts, that has the most to give back to the world. He gave me the impression of doing that on the back of a Triumph. We should all be that bold.” Certainly, those sentiments have been echoed thousands of times and spurred countless new riders over the years. (Click images to enlarge)

The ladies aren’t left out of the clubhouse either. As you are sure to remember, Pam Anderson straddled, among other things, a Triumph Thunderbird in Barb Wire.

An eye-popping Ann-Margret perched herself atop a Triumph Tiger T100 in The Swinger and Kate Hudson had something to do with an ’03 Bonneville and Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Off screen, McConaughey is a confirmed motorcycle enthusiast and regularly fires up his Triumph Thunderbird Sport.

Of the modern Hollywood breed, Tom Cruise is perhaps the highest wattage megastar closely associated with motorcycles in general and with Triumph specifically. While he flirted with a Kawasaki Ninja 900 in Top Gun, Cruise rode a Triumph Speed Triple in Mission: Impossible II. In M:i:III he reprises the Ethan Hunt role, this time co-starring with a McQueen-esque riff on the new Triumph Scrambler 900. The movie Scrambler drips with retro-groove from its knobby-tired spoke wheels and front fender license plate frame to its upswept peashooter exhausts. It’s a fence jumping Nazi-dodger to be sure.

Cruise is no dilettante when it comes to bikes. The actor studied with the renowned Keith Code at the racer’s wheelie school. Code himself rates Cruise as a near-pro level motorcycle stuntman and states, “He’s a learning machine. You rarely have to tell him twice, in fact, he got to balance point and gear changes on the Speed Triples at our On One Wheel school sooner than anyone I’ve ever seen, and stand-up wheelies weren’t long after that. On top of that, he really likes to ride.” Cruise is a devoted student of the action-hero disciplines. Always loathe to use a stunt double, he has said that he seeks competence at rock-climbing and flying in addition to his evident auto and cycle skills. Still, no amount of expertise will prevent the occasional mishap, even if you’re an action hero.

A few years ago, Cruise was tooling through Beverly Hills on his turbocharged Ducati when he skidded on a patch of oil and dumped his bike. No matter, Cruise got off the pavement, righted his bike, signed a few autographs and took off without assistance.

Perhaps most famously, Cruise arrived at the War of the Worlds premiere with bride-to-be Katie Holmes on the back of his Honda Rune cruiser. The duo was decked out in matching biker-chic: jeans, black T-shirts, black boots, leather jackets, and shades. (Click image to enlarge)

Perhaps the most ironic arrow in Triumph’s screen quiver comes courtesy of the small box. Dean of ’50s cool for the ’70s generation, Happy Days’ “Fonzie” got around his home turf of Milwaukee on a Triumph 500 Twin in the show’s later years. While the good folks down the road at Harley-Davidson would be quick to point out that Fonzie became a Triumph man after he jumped the shark, the Fonz did make the switch to Triumph from his custom Harley.

According to Christopher Wagner, President of Royal Promotions and Placement, a leading motion picture and television product placement agency, Hollywood has followed in Arthur Fonzarelli’s boot steps. He notes that Triumph is the “motorcycle of choice” in Tinsel Town. With the pending release of Mission: Impossible III, pairing Tom Cruise with the retro-cool Scrambler 900, Triumph looks to add another iconic screen image to its glittering Hollywood résumé.

Hinckley Triumphs

America’s Sweethearts (Tiger – John Cusack)
Barb Wire (Thunderbird – Pamela Anderson))
Dare Devil (America – Colin Farrell)
The English Patient (Bonneville – Ralph Fiennes )
Femme Fatale (Bonneville – Antonio Banderas)
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone (Bonneville – Robbie Coltrane)
Heaven’s Burning (America – Kenji Isomura)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Bonneville – Matthew McConnaughey)

Johnny English (Speed Triple – Natalie Imbruglia)
The Matrix (Speed Triple – Carrie Ann Moss)
Maybe Baby (Bonneville – Hugh Laurie)
Mission Impossible 2 (Daytona 955i & Speed Triple)
Pushing Tim (Thunderbird – Billy Bob Thornton)
Romeo Must Die (Tiger)
Torque (Daytona 955i – Ice Cube)
Tuck Everlasting (Bonneville)
Laurel Canyon (Anthony Nivola)
Terminator 3 (Bonneville – Nick Stahl)
MI:3 (Scrambler – Tom Cruise)

Meriden Triumphs

The Mini Skirt Mob (Bonneville)
The Great Escape (Bonneville – Steve McQueen)
Bullitt Nowhere to Run (Bonneville – Jean Claude Van Damme)
An Officer and a Gentleman (Bonneville – Richard Gere)
Rebel Without A Cause (Tiger T110 – James Dean)
Shampoo (Bonneville)
The Wild One (Tiger T110 – Marlon Brando)
Coogans Bluff (Clint Eastwood)

RPM (Daytona – Anthony Quinn)
The Swinger (Ann Margret)
The Dammed (Tiger T110 & Bonneville)
The Leather Boys Stay Away Joe (Elvis Presley)
On Any Sunday (Steve McQueen)
Wallace & Grommit – A Close Shave (Tiger Cub)
The Blob (Steve McQueen)

Other articles you will enjoy: